Make Your House a Smart Home
Everything you need to know to build a smarthome or make your existing home work smarter for you.
It has never been easier (or cheaper) to automate household tasks or remotely control devices around the home. If you are unsure of what a smart home is or would like to learn more about what’s possible, click here.
Here in our smart home guide we will show you the main ways you can make your home smart:
Home Assistants and Smart Speakers
No smart home guide would be complete without an introduction to smart speakers. Over the last year or so there has been a huge amount of hype around smart speakers. Such as Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple Home Pods. These use Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant or Apple Siri to accept voice commands and control devices in your home.
Many of the online ‘guides to making a smart home’ suggest that the first thing you should do is acquire one of these Smart Speakers. As if to suggest that you can’t have a Smart Home without a Smart Speaker. This is not entirely true.
The reality is there are many ways to make your smart home and adding voice control is just one. For a variety of reasons, not everyone wants a voice assistant, and that’s okay.
Indeed, it is undeniable that voice recognition technology has really advanced in the last couple of years. This brings some new and exciting possibilities for controlling other devices around the home.
Currently, the home assistant which seems to be compatible with more devices then any other are the Amazon Echo products with Alexa.
These provide a very simple way to make basic electric products smart. If used with a lamp for example, you can plug the lamp into the smart plug and plug the smart plug into the wall outlet. It is then possible to switch the lamp on remotely using an app, or set a schedule for the light to come on at certain times.
Smart plugs allow for a cheap and easy way to switch items off and on when you aren’t near the switch.
Here are our top recommendations from the leading manufacturers:
Another easy Smart Home upgrade is smart light bulbs. These replace your existing bulbs and can be remotely controlled via an app or using one of the voice assistants mentioned above.
As with a smart plug it is possible to turn the lights off and on remotely and set a schedule. However, unlike using a smart plug, smart bulbs often allow you to adjust the brightness and colour of their light too.
As smart bulbs allow for automation and are powered by power-efficient LEDs, it is possible that they can reduce your home’s electrical consumption too.
Our recommendation for smart bulbs is the market leader Philips Hue. You’ll need the Starter Kit to begin with, which has two bulbs and the bridge. This plugs into your router to control the bulbs. Once you have this, you can add up to 50 bulbs throughout your home. Please click here or on the pictures below for more information:
Smart Thermostats replace your existing central heating thermostat to allow remote control via an app. As you commute home from work on a cold winters day, you can simply open the app. Then switch your heating on remotely, so that the house is warm when you get home. Smart thermostats can also save you money on your heating bill by detecting when there is no-one at home, to automatically switch the heating down or off altogether.
Many smart thermostats such as our recommended Nest Learning Thermostat – 3rd Generation, can learn when heating is required throughout the week and create an energy efficient heating schedule. Another market leader is the Hive Active Heating and Hot Water Thermostat.
There are two main ways to create a security camera system for your home.
The more advanced method is to use a set of IP cameras and a network video recorder (NVR). This is the better system to have if you are building a proper smart home with an integrated network, and are wanting several cameras. The NVR is located in your server rack or network cabinet. Each camera is wired back to the cabinet using CAT6 cable, which provides the cameras with both power and data. The NVR records data onto an integral hard drive. Both live and recorded footage can be accessed either using an app, or via HDMI output from the NVR.
The simpler and easier method is to use self contained separate cameras which connect using WiFi. These are a great option if you just want one or two cameras and running cabling to all of the cameras isn’t practical. You can keep an eye on your home using your phone, tablet or laptop while your away.
Video Door Bells
Smart video doorbells allow you to see who’s coming to your front door, even when your not at home. They have a built in camera and work with an app which allows one-way video and two-way audio communication. So when a visitor presses your door bell, you’ll receive an alert on your phone and be able to see who’s there. You can then choose weather you want to answer or not. It then works like an intercom system, allowing you to see and speak to the visitor. They can only speak to you.
Please click on the pictures to visit Amazon for more information on the specific products.
Some video door bells, such as the August AUG-AB02, pictured below, can even be synced to work with a smart lock, allowing you to remotely unlock your front door.
Smart locks allow for remote unlocking of your door via a smartphone app. Most allow you to provide visitors with temporary passes so that they can enter your building during their stay. It is even possible to link your smart lock with other products, such as your smart bulbs or video doorbell. This means you can have your lights come on automatically when you unlock your front door. Or choose to remotely open your front door for visitors. As before, please click on the pictures to visit Amazon for more information on the specific products.
One application that would be especially useful, is the possibility of secure delivery of parcels when your not at home. If you have a separate entrance porch equipped with a video doorbell and synced smart lock. When a courier rings the bell, you could remotely answer the door, ask for the parcel to be left in the porch, then unlock the door. Once The courier has left, the porch will be locked, with your parcel securely left inside.
Smart Smoke Detectors
Every home should have at least a couple of smoke detectors anyway. Smart smoke detectors will send an alert to your phone when smoke is detected in your home. As well as sounding an alarm.
Our choice is the Nest Protect. This detects both smoke and carbon monoxide. If you have more than one Nest Protect in your home, they will tell you which room the smoke is detected in. Not only will it tell you on your phone, but each unit will say out loud for example, “Smoke Detected in Kitchen”.
The Nest Protect is also clever enough to know the difference between an actual fire, or if you just accidentally burnt the toast. It will also routinely silently test itself and email you a home report every month to let you know that everything is working ok.
Please me mindful that every time you add a new device to your home network, you very slightly increase the risk of getting hacked. The good news is that reputable manufacturers should take steps to ensure the security and safety of their products. Both by carefully avoiding vulnerabilities in their own hardware and software, and by regulating any third party app/software development.
Always ask yourself if you trust a product or manufacturer before adding it onto your network. If you choose to forgo a product from a well established known brand in favour of a cheaper alternative from an obscure online maker that you’ve never heard of, ask yourself if it is worth taking that risk.
No product or manufacturer can be guaranteed to be completely risk free. However, choosing a known reputable brand such as those recommended above, is usually a safer option. On the relatively rare occasion that a product by a leading manufacturer is found to have a vulnerability, the problem is usually addressed quite quickly.